Last Updated 16/07/2021.
Our lives on this planet are changing. We are at a point in time where we all have to do more to help our world survive, fast. We have just 11 years left to totally change the world. Many of us are on-board with this and the army of eco-conscious citizens swells daily, but what about those of us who travel? Is there such a thing as an eco-friendly traveller ?
I’m not going to stop travelling through choice and I don’t suppose you are either so we’re in a difficult situation. Yes we should cut the planes, but can we? Tourism makes up 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, there are far bigger offenders, but every one of us can do something, a little or the most we possibly can, to cut that back.
Travel is something that runs through the veins of wanderlusters but people keep telling us not to fly. They have a good point. Flying has a big-old carbon footprint that we can’t ignore so indulgently zipping around the world just for the hell of it – let’s call time on that. Maybe a day will come when we have to stop flying completely as well as totally changing our at-home behaviours. Maybe that day has already come and we just don’t realise it.
For now, let’s just see what we can do to lessen our carbon footprint and be more eco-aware. Stopping our flying is only a part of the picture, the way we live, our consumption and our homes, the balance of what we consume and what we create all has to change.
I fully believe that our last 6 years have had a way lower impact on the global environment that we would have had if we’d stayed home, why I believe that comes in the final paragraph.
How To Be a More Eco Friendly Traveller
We made a video to show just one way you can give back. We took part in this organised beach clean up in a massively remote part of Australia. A small group of volunteers, including one of my kids, removed 1.7 tonnes of trash, mostly plastics. Take a look here.
Offset Your Home Life
Make your home and garden so perfectly eco-awesome that you can start to offset the carbon debt you create by flying.
Plant trees, grow food, get rid of your lawn, ditch the car, lose the aircon, do not under any circumstances use electric driers, stop consuming. Hard, I know. We have a pool and pool pump. That’s a hard one to get rid of. But tumble driers are easy to ditch.
When you’re travelling take the room that’s non A/C, fan only. You’ll save yourself cash and carbon. Fans are hundreds of times more energy-efficient that air conditioners and central air conditioning is by far the worst.
If you can’t do it you can, to an extent, pay somebody else to do it for you. Organisations exist that turn your dollars into trees or clean energy production. These are called carbon offset companies
Carbon Offset Companies
It’s not just down to individuals, some airlines pay these companies to make their business superficially greener.
Vote, Create a Fuss, Complain
Vote out the cash driven idiots at the helm who prefer money to a habitable planet. Use your vote to bring change. Complain, loudly, if you see a company screwing up the environment. If your voice is small bring it to me and I’ll use my social media presence if I can. Spread the world and let people know what has to be done and what has to stop.
It has to be done, we all need to fly less. I’d rather take a bus or train anyway and most of our travel around Asia or Europe is by land. In Asia overland travel is normally cheaper and a wonderful way to explore. You see and experience far more on the ground than in the air.
Staycations are the way forward for many but not for us, the dedicated travellers and nomads.
Unfortunately, we’re based in Australia right now so we’re pretty stuck. We have to fly to get out. Internally, buses and trains cost more than flights, we don’t travel internally in Australia because of this.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could easily and eco- consciously travel by boat from Australia to Asia? Some dude crossed to Papua New Guinea on a jet ski recently, so there must be a way. A return to sail, wouldn’t that be amazing.
Travel is my business as well as my passion, it’s how I provide for my family, so living in a place where flying isn’t required is something we’re considering for the future.
Stop With The Business Flights and Social Calls
Pick up a phone, Skype, use e-mail. People travel for many and varied reasons, but some flights can easily be avoided. Don’t send a letter or card, we don’t need to print in the electronic age.
Avoid Big Resorts, Excess and Gluttony
Big hotels guzzle water to keep golf courses green and pools topped up. They run air-con in open spaces. They produce mountains of food that goes to waste. They bleach, boil, launder and press daily. It is so unnecessary. This has to stop, this isn’t travel, it’s self-indulgence.
Some big hotels and resorts are working towards decreasing their footprint. Pick those, not the ones with the disposable plastic bottles for every guest.
In my town the big hotels are exempt from annual summer water restrictions. They can top up their pools and water golf courses while I can’t water my fruit trees. How does that make sense?
Avoid Cruise Ships
Cruise ships are massive environmental criminals. Again, this is not travel.
Be as Communal as Possible
Share buses, share trains, share that big pot of mi quang at the street stall, share rides, share gear, share resources.
Buy second hand, pass your trekking gear on to the person you meet who’s heading to Nepal, pass it on, share the love, decrease manufacturing need.
Use Public Transport
This goes without saying, buses and trains are so much better than private cars. If you have to use a car, fill it with people. A return to safe hitch hiking would be wonderful. We’d always pick up hitch hikers in Romania, it’s normal there and people trust.
Don’t Eat Meat, Particularly Beef
A vegetarian has half the carbon footprint of a meat eater’s. A vegan’s is lower again. Beef is a big culprit, so if you can only switch out the beef for chicken, you’re doing something. See the figures here.
I read that being vegan, in and of itself, can offset 11 hours of flying. I don’t know if this is correct, but it sounds promising.
Get Used To Not Accepting Plastics
You know how some countries banned plastic bags years ago, where others still haven’t?
You know how Europe has resolved to ban certain ( not enough) single use plastics by 2021 ? I’m well used to not using plastic bags so in the countries where they still love to bag everything it’s easy to say no.
Can we all maybe carry those best- case scenarios with us and act as if those bans were still in place, everywhere?
Could we all complain like holy hell when supermarket companies like Australian Coles hands out free plastic toys in their own little plastic bags at checkout?
Don’t Fall For The Hype – Consume Less, Not More
We’ve all been inundated with ads for more eco-friendly products in the last few years. I’m even guilty of creating a sales page around this myself. But just because a product claims to be better for the planet doesn’t mean you need to buy it. You’ve heard of greenwashing, right?
Greenwashing is conning us into buying still more stuff with the promise of that stuff being environmentally friendly. Buying more rarely is.
Do you need those metal drinking straws? I do, yes, but you may not. Do you need to buy special kitchen scrubbers, cloths and towels? Probably not, don’t you have any old bath towels you could cut up to scrub pots with?
Use what you have. Nobody needs cling film to wrap food, let alone some product that claims to be a more eco friendly alternative. Don’t fall for the marketing, buy less, not more. These products are created to make money.
If you look around your house I’m sure you’ll find something you could use for a job, or you could make something. I made shoe bags out of old T shirts. Stop buying stuff.
If you’re going travelling you do not need special travel clothes, take what you have. Much as I like packing cubes and organisers, they are a want not a need. Cut it back and stop spending.
Don’t be wasteful. I know most travellers want to save money, avoid excess and not create waste, that’s great.
Maybe we could use the shop without the air con, not the one with. Maybe we could pick the electric vehicle over the one pumping out choking fumes, maybe we could put more effort into finding recycling bins. I’m sure we could all do more.
I’ve just learned that some trains in the UK run off clean fuel. Maybe pick the journeys and countries doing the best job at reducing impact.
Progress in Eco Friendly Travel
Things are moving super fast in the world of eco friendly travel, almost every day we see some company trying to improve its image or maybe genuinely trying to halp the planet.
- Quantas now runs waste free flights.
- Airlines are starting to run on greener bio-fuels.
- Skyscanner are introducing a feature which allows passengers to search for the greenest operators (Visit Skyscanner here)
- Many UK and European trains are running on renewable or sustainable energy.
- Ecotourism and sustainable travel are the latest buzz words with public awareness and education growing daily, climate change deniers are under scutiny.
- The general public are more aware that stopping consuming beef is possibly the single biggest planet saving step they could take.
- You’ll find vegan items on menus almost everywhere.
- The general public are more aware of exploitative, cruel or environmentally damaging tourist attractions. For instance, the sharp shift in public opinion, and mass boycotting of elephant riding and tiger attractions.
- Travellers are choosing sustainable accommodation in greater numbers. Look for official seals of approval from official bodies such as Earth Check ( Australia), Green Tourism ( UK) and US Green Building Council.
- Hotel chains are encouraging guests to refuse daily houskeeping changes. This is no hardship and reduces planetary impact significantly. Marriott even credits guest accounts with bonus points for doing this. Housekeepers are up in arms about this step.
- Cruise ships are horrific offenders but certain cruise lines are bringing in greener hybrid ships. See Hurtingruten here.
Long Term Travel is Better For the Planet Than Staying Home. Or Is It?
I can’t be sure, it would be impossible to do the maths, but I think switching our old life for a travel lifestyle meant we affected the planet in a less damaging way. This is long-term travel, not holiday-making so it looks a bit different.
For the last 6 years we have travelled full-time. We didn’t know when we took our 2 cruise ship crossings that these cruise ships were such massive offenders. I regret that and I apologise. But I do believe we’ve lived greener than we would have done had we stayed in our bricks and mortar home in Australia. Why ? Here’s why I believe travel, long term, is more ecofriendly than staying home and there are so many lessons to be learned.
- Long term travellers and nomads consume less, we buy less, we waste less. We do not upgrade phones and TVs, we don’t own domestic gadgets, we save every cent we can in whatever way we can and that is greener. All we own is in our backpacks, we can’t be burdened with “stuff”
- The beds, rooms, linens, TVs, chairs, everything we used daily, were used by thousands of other people too in the guest houses of the world. Items were not bought just for us. We rarely stay just one or two nights and always refuse fresh linens and room cleans. The sort of accommodation we use generally doesn’t offer this anyway.
- Travellers don’t run air conditioners or heating all day because non A/C rooms are cheaper and we’re more often out exploring. We only have one room between 4 to heat or cool, not a whole house.
- Bum squirters are better than toilet roll and we don’t buy paper towels for kitchen use. A wipe on a trusty travel scarf is all the paper towel we need. ( not for bums, obviously)
- We care about not buying water in plastic bottles and carry equipment and knowledge to avoid this.
- We eat out. We eat food at street stalls and in small local restaurants that has been prepared by one or two people for dozens. One huge pot of rice, cooked once and shared, one fridge holding everyone’s supplies, local fresh produce from the market going into a wok. There’s no heating a domestic oven just to cook a meal for 4. There’s less processed, packaged food. Less waste, less fuel. Of course, not every traveller ” eats out” in the same way.
- We, as backpackers and travellers, use public transport.
- Travellers don’t own or use cars. They do not take part in the daily commute to school, work or after school activities.
- We use solid packaging-free shampoo and are generally light on toiletries.
- If we settle for a while, it will generally be in places where there are local markets, not supermarkets. We walk to them.
- We don’t have pets.
- Full-time travellers do not often stay in luxury resort hotels where air-con runs constantly in open lobbies and towels and bedding are changed and washed unnecessarily. We do not pick-at excessive buffets where most food ends up wasted. We do not over-eat, we stay lean through not wanting to waste our treasured travel dollars.
- Long term travellers cross from country to country by land, they actually don’t fly very often because flying costs more and you miss out on the journey.
- We don’t fly business-class.
- We travellers eat less meat because we spend more time in countries with a stronger vegetarian and vegan food tradition. Meat is an expensive luxury in our favourite parts of the world and not the norm, as it is for many in the west. We eat local because we want to experience authentic local food.
- We give our tourist dollar to the local business, the little guy, not the huge corporations.
- Earth’s wanderers learn from the world. We see so much, we take those lessons forward with us and try to tread more lightly. We try to reach others to tell them why we need to do this and show them the damage that we have seen with our own eyes. We see the electric vehicles and those that pollute. We breath that air and know which is best. We see the plastic strewn roadsides and take note of them. We see the lack of fish in our oceans and vow not to hunt or eat marine wildlife. We see how the people of the mountains conserve fuel by storing their boiled water in huge insulated flasks – that’s one we took home with us, for sure.
Just a few thoughts. I really believe our lack of consumerism over the last 6 years has been a huge factor in reducing our carbon footprint. We’re nothing special and far from perfect, but I have a hunch that it’s true.
I know, without doubt, that since we came home just 4 months ago we have consumed and wasted so much more. An easy demonstration can be seen in my weight, I eat more at home. It’s not good. I’ve started buying things just because they are nice, not because I need them. I’m spending days in the house running air-con rather than being out walking and exploring. We don’t own a car through choice, but if we did I know we’d be making dozens of unnecessary car journeys.
So as I said in the newsletter, our food producing, permaculture inspired garden is taking shape, our solar power ( controversial, you need to thoroughly research this) is coming and as always, we strive to consume as little as possible. Will we continue to travel ? I hope so, but right now we have no firm plans.
I’m having a bit of an epiphany.
So if you choose travel, as we did and do, it’s not necessarily as bad as the non-travellers want to make out. We can all do it with more eco-conscience, for now, maybe. How do you feel about this? Feel free to disagree, this is just another of my brain dumps and a way to get a conversation going.